Dear Friends of Shan Refugees,
Here is an update on some of my time with Shan refugees in Thailand.
1. Pi Mok, a camp for construction workers, is the first school we started for Shan refugees. Twenty families had left for other construction sites the day I visited the school, which meant the remaining children had lost their closest friends and were very sad. Between 15 and 20 children attend this bamboo hut school, which is situated in the shadow of more elegant homes their parents have built for their well-to-do Thai neighbors. Still, it is a haven of sorts, a place for the children to study English, Shan, their native language, which is not allowed in Burmese schools, and basic math. A place for them to feel special. We will be supporting the school again in 2010.
2. The Poon Yaing Refugee School has been located at an agricultural sharecroppers’ site, where they earned the equivalent of $75.00 to $100.00 U.S. dollars per month. But like most countries Thailand is having economic problems. Thai landowners decided to solve their problem by no longer allowing refugees to be sharecroppers; they will move them to a different work site and hire them for hourly wages. It’s hard to imagine how much lower their income will be under this new plan.
In 2009 we paid one-half of the expenses for thirty-five children in this camp, so they could attend Thai schools. In 2010, we plan to pay one-half of Thai school expenses for fifty children. Below is a photo of some of them in their school, which they had decorated for Christmas.
3. The Orphan Project: In December 2009, I traveled to a camp for displaced people from Shan State, people whom the Burmese military has driven off their land and out of their homes. Three thousand of them cluster together in the mountains just at the edge of Shan State next to the Thai border, where they are watched by Burmese soldiers on one side and Thai soldiers on the other, guarded, to the extent possible, by the Shan State Army South.
There are eighty-three orphans in this camp, the victims of The Burmese military’s undeclared war on the Shan. Because the displaced are not technically classified as refugees, they get no international aid. A charitable organization based in Thailand provides them with seeds to grow vegetables, at which they excel (see the giant radish in photo on right); they get rice from another organization.
The school principal at this camp said the people who live there are sending six of the orphans to a Thai school, a sacrifice because it is so difficult for the displaced to earn money. The reason these particular six orphans are being sent to Thai school, according to the principal, is because “they are a little bit smart and try very hard.”
In 2010, we will support the six orphans’ education in a Thai school, and some of their food and clothing needs. See their photo below:
Although we fell short of our fund-raising goals this year, some of the donations we received came with heart-warming stories, such as that of a middle-school girl in Wyoming , who brought her Christmas money to her counselor saying she wanted to give it to Shan children. In deciding to use donors’ money as we are, we kept that young girl in mind and tried to reach as many refugee children as possible. Many thanks for your support!
I look forward to seeing you after I return to Minnesota in March.
Dear friends of Shan Refugees:
Conditions in Burma are abysmal. The military is waging open warfare against people protesting the takeover of their country. It is not just the protesters who are in danger: Loi Kaw Wan, an encampment of Shan displaced persons, on the urma/Thai border north of Chaing Mai, has been shelled and residents cannot farm their land for fear of attack.
In the past, we supported six orphans at this site, and I am deeply saddened by the plight of their people. https://myanmar-now.org/en/news/myanmar-military-artillery-shells-explode-near-shan-idp-camps. Below photo is with young women who lived at this encampment.
You can read more about the military coup here:
The Burmese military blocked internet service for more than a month. When they still had it, a former student wrote simply, "Scared, Teacher."
NEWS FROM THAILAND AND OUR EDUCATION PROGRAMS:
Thailand is having a resurgence of COVID cases, and only 1% of the people have been vaccinated.
Our schools have been closed for some weeks and are tentatively scheduled to reopen in early June. When in session, they accomplish amazing things. Here is some information we gleaned from the last report from Shan Youth Power, SYP, which manages the education
programs, wrote about several outstanding students. She studies as Secondary level, grade at Nawamin Payap High School. Nong Tida always has a passion for working at social work organizing, and leading the students in the community for activities
such as organizing reading books, decorating the school to be clean, leading the students for environment activity, encouraging the community to reduce plastic by collecting the money and buying plates, spoons for using in community, such as birthday party. She always happy to join social activity workshops or camps that are provided by Shan Youth Power. She has a strong heart to help the community and wants to see migrant people have better future.
Nong Tida may not be outstanding in language skills such as English but she is an excellent in social work. In SYP, we are not just developing in academic studies, we guide them to be who they are, to follow their dreams. We believe people have different talents, which means that although we cannot be outstanding in everything, at least we do good for people, for society.
Noung Shwe Kyar is one of the outstanding students from KarnKanook2 Migrant School. She has been studying at Chiang Mai Vocational College as a first-year student in Design, academic year 2020.
Her words: I am one of the students who has received a scholarship from Bernice [ie, Schools for Shan Refugees]. I got scholarship since elementary school until grade-9. I knew about this scholarship from one alumni student who is living in the same camp with me. We learned at Migrant school together. I thought that I had difficult circumstances and my family had very low income. This scholarship can provide for food expenses at school or tuition fee. And volunteer teachers from Shan Youth Power also come to teach at our camp. Therefore, I got the scholarship. The difficult thing I have faced is the cost of passport and visa extension fees. There are 4 people in my family and we all are using passports as well... this year there is an additional blood test and covid-19 test. Due to Covid-19 pandemic many people had lost their jobs and it is hard to find a job.
My mom works as a housecleaner during this period it hard for her to get a job too. Especially, if you are migrant workers. Because some employers are afraid of migrant workers. They think that they will get infection with Covid-19 from migrant workers.
For example, we went to clean in a house but they did not want us to enter the house. As for my father, in the past he had many jobs and it was easy to get a job to work. Now, there is not many jobs like before so, it is hard for him to get a job too. And he has to work to pay for food day to day and no savings. In the past, migrant workers like us wouldn't study until high school. They would only study till middle school then start to work. [Our program is extending the education of Shan youth.]
We are completing a report about our teachers—five of whom were migrant camp students and got scholarships from us, some, like Nong Shwe Kyar, for as many as nine years. I will forward it soon.
In the meantime, we are hoping to keep the schools and scholarship programs afloat. We are ever so grateful to those of you who have donated. That money is in safekeeping until the education programs resume. If you have not donated this year and wish to do so, scholarships range from $30.00 per year for elementary students to $100, $200, and $300 per year for older students, attending vocational schools. Donations can be made through Pay Pal at our website: www.shanrefugeeschools.org OR you may write a check to Schools for Shan Refugees and send it to
Mary Worner , Treasurer
28424 Water Street Road, Underwood, MN 56586
Many thanks to the Unitarian Universalist Church in Underwood for their continued support in the form of an annual grant. We are grateful. The Shan youth are grateful.
If we remain COVID free into fall, we plan to hold a 3-course Shan dinner fundraiser in Minneapolis. Hold the date: Saturday, October 9!
Bernice Johnson, Vice President Schools for Shan Refugees, Inc.
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